Monday, May 7, 2012

Some brief reflections on the Presidential Elections.

There’s a lot that could be said about the two rounds of campaigning, and the results themselves of course, for the Presidential election in Timor-Leste. To make this manageable, I will just write down a series of dot point style paragraphs; at least to begin with. I hope that this will help me get down some ideas I’ve been stewing on recently, as well as serve as a starting point for writing a short article or essay on the subject.

  • My prediction on the winner was wrong. I picked Lu Olo with about 53% of the vote. I distributed votes and came to this conclusion based on some number crunching and several (now obviously dubious) rumours. I won’t get into details about these rumours but I believed that about 2/3 votes for JRH and 1/3 votes for Lasama, along with most of the votes coming from many of the other smaller losing candidates. While it looks like most of the support from the smaller candidates, including Manuel Tilman and Rogerio Lobato, did go to Lu Olo, an overwhelming majority of people who voted for Lasama and JRH supported TMR. I have come to several tentative conclusions from this:

  • A big question in the 2nd round was the level of support for FRETILIN; had the political quarantine imposed since 2007 been breached? It’s a mixed result for FRETILIN in my assessment. My initial feeling in the lead up to the 2nd round of polling was yes. Many of the candidates from the 1st round signed up to support Lu Olo: Tilman, Lobato, Angelita and Maria, as well as a senior guy in ASDT and Freitas. This was a bit illusory it terms of what it represented. While it did signal that other candidates from the 1st round would support Lu Olo besides Tilman (like in 2007), the level of support these people carried was minimal. Even Lobato’s 4 or so per cent of support, while significant, would not be enough for Lu Olo.

  • More bad news, it confirms for FRETILIN the limitation to their support in the country. While doing pretty well in the East, as they have always historically done, they continued to struggle in the Centre and West. They did poorly in the 1st round and could not improve much in the 2nd round. The strong swing to TMR in these two regions could be explained by perhaps two reasons. FRETILIN are generally disliked and not trusted by most voters, or the appeal of TMR as an independent candidate, backed by Xanana Gusmao and CNRT, and a war hero as well, made him a very popular candidate, or some combination of these two factors.

  • Some good news. FRETILIN base level of support has not fallen since 2007. In fact, it may have improved somewhat. Lobato, while running as an independent candidate, is essentially part of the FRETILN family. Again, this is assuming that people who voted for Lobato are sympathetic to FRETILN and would vote for them otherwise, like in a parliamentary election. If so, this could tip FRETILIN’s support over 30%. The big challenge will be to find willing partners to form government. The overarching and uncompromising style that was a feature of their first term in government, 2002-2007, is remembered by all. It won them no friends, in fact, it lost them a lot of them. Will other parties be prepared to work with them? Has FRETILN learned they will need to play nice in the sand pit and share their toys? It’s possible they could form government, and they will get the most seats, but I find it hard to imagine them getting enough support to form a majority. At least for the moment anyway, it looks very unlikely.

  • It is hard to gauge CNRT’s level of support. Go back to 2007, CNRT backs JRH in the first round and he gets 22%, in the parliamentary polls the same year, they receive around 25%. In 2012, backing TMR much to chagrin of JRH, TMR gets almost 26% of the vote. TMR probably had broader appeal and some of that vote would have come from voters not normally behind CNRT. Results in the Eastern districts indicate that TMR may have pulled in support, perhaps from veterans, who would normally have backed FRETILIN. What can we take from these results as far as CNRT is concerned?

  • Good news is that the decisive results for their presidential candidate in the 2nd round may point towards an easier route to forming a coalition in the upcoming new parliament. With Lasama and JRH releasing their supporters to vote according to their conscience, they got behind TMR. This may show the leadership of parties, particularly PD who may prove to be the kingmaker this year in the parliament, that voters are more comfortable working with CNRT. Getting behind CNRT’s presidential candidate indicates the temperament of voters in the West and Centre, which is not good news for FRETILN. This seeming preparedness of these voters is good news for CNRT, as they will definitely need to form a coalition to run the government again.

  • Not so much bad news, but not good news either, is that the real base level of support for CNRT is hard to gauge. It doesn’t look like it has improved since 2007, and there is a chance it may have even dropped, depending on the non-CNRT level of support for TMR in the 1st round. It currently looks like it is still the 2nd biggest party in the country.

  • Lasama looks like one the big winners. A good result in the 1st round. Though it was about the same level of support as he received in 2007. Another big question is how this will translate in the parliamentary polls. In 2007, Lasama’s vote did not translate to the same level of support for PD, which got around 12%. Will this occur again? This may demonstrate the strength of and appeal of charismatic leaders when people are asked to support them as individual candidates for president. When it comes to political parties, it appears to be a different story. There are of course some variables at play here, presidential and parliamentary polls are different and the influence and role of political parties is different in the differing contexts of each campaign and poll. Individual leaders, my feeling is, play a more significant role than parties – except in the case of FRETILN.

  • The role of JRH will be very important, but what he wants or wants to do is very unclear. It is a ‘known unknown’. Once his mandate as president is over on 19 May, things may get a bit clear. He will have some role in the elections; that is almost for sure. He has made some noises about his dissatisfaction with the current government and rumours abound that he will work with anyone to block XG getting back into power. JUST A RUMOUR I must add. What he does with ASDT, FRETILN and Lasama/PD will be something to observe carefully.

  • Tensions are becoming, or seemingly becoming, evident in the current AMP government. Divisions in the coalition government over some legislation, particularly reforming the electoral law, and the lifting of immunity of two ministers so far, make the situation intriguing and a bit disconcerting. What is XG and CNRT up to? They are on the losing side of popular opinion on electoral law reform, and have effectively boycotted parliament to prevent a vote going ahead on it. They would only do this if they were going to lose it. PD and others in the coalition want to pass it. Why are they so adamantly against it? It must be in their political self-interest to act in this way. The current law makes people vote in the home village, which makes life difficult and expensive if people want to vote, particularly if you are in Dili and have to travel to the East to vote. One story I have heard is that CNRT figure this hurts FRETILN, with many students and works from their support base in the East disinclined to go home to vote. If there is a good reason not to change it, for logistical reasons etc. then they should turn up to parliament and make their case. Refusing to attend parliament so that a quorum isn’t achieved is a cowardly and immature approach. It sets a very bad precedent.

  • Another rumour that won’t go away is that XG wants so split PD. This makes a lot of sense for CNRT. PD will play a crucial role in the elections, and could prove a large obstacle to work around or negotiate with. If XG can avoid doing this, why not? It is clear from the 2nd round of presidential polling that most supporters in PD would be prepared to get behind CNRT, and not FRETILIN, if PD was not an option. Though the leadership of PD would be split between FRETILN and CNRT, CNRT would benefit greatly from PD’s support base shifting towards them. This may sound like a conspiracy theory, but with XG placing pressure on PD by throwing on of their ministers to the lions, allowing charges to be laid against the minister, I could see this occurring. Again, this is just ANOTHER RUMOUR, and Timor-Leste thrives on them.

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